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anonymous on September 12, 2011

I was sexually abused as an adolescent...now I’m sexually unresponsive to my new partner. Can you help?

I am an adult survivor of extreme domestic violence growing up, during which I was sexually abused as an adolescent. I recently met a wonderful man...but I admit that I’m always looking for something to be wrong with him. He told me he loved me and bought me gifts for Valentine’s Day, but I’m not sexually responsive to him. I don't know if I feel safer with unavailable men, or if I just am not attracted to him in spite of his gestures. Please help.

answered by Annette Fuglsang Owens, MD, PhD on September 12, 2011

Thanks for your question. While I’m very sorry that you’ve had to endure abuse on several levels, it sounds like you have some great insight into your own experience.

Learning to feel safe, especially for someone who’s been abused, can take a long time. For starters, I would encourage you tospeak witha therapist who specializes in emotional, sexual and other forms of abuse.

In the meantime, it may help to slow down the relationship you’re in, allowing your partner to prove his sincerity and trustworthiness to you. It might also help if you share with him, at least to some degree, your past experiences and that you’re in the process of working out what you need in order to be in a healthy relationship.

Often, partners of people who have been abused aren’t sure what to do – or not to do – to help the person they love. The only way he’ll be able to gain insight into your experience is if you’re willing to speak with him about it.

If you feel comfortable enough, you and your partner may even benefit from visiting a counselor and/or sex therapist together. Sometimes, an expert can help partners of people who have been sexually abused learn more about how to relate to their partner…sexually and otherwise.

In particular, sex therapists are trained to help people who have experienced sexual trauma regain a healthy relationship with sex and with their partner. You may want to check out the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists for a referral in your area.

Bottom line? Everyone deserves to experience the joys of a healthy, loving relationship…including you. Through open communication with your partner and by working with a trusted professional, I hope you’ll achieve the healing and answers you seek.


Related info:
  • Suggested Reading:
    • The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis
    • The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz

Annette Fuglsang Owens, MD, PhD

Dr. Owens is an AASECT-certified sexuality counselor. Her areas of expertise include the medical aspects of human sexuality and sexual problems, as well as the impact of STDs ⎼ and other diseases, illnesses and disabilities ⎼ on sexuality. Dr. Owens was educated at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

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